Manchester High School (M.H.S.) recently hosted its first-ever Grade 9 Awards Night, celebrating the accomplishments of 135 freshman students in the presence of their families, educators, and fellow classmates. For some students, this was the first time they had ever been recognized by a school for an award, effectively reinforcing their progress and on-track achievement, a key tenet in the RISE Network’s “RISE by 5” strategies for promoting on-track and postsecondary culture.
Other partner schools in the RISE Network, such as Westhill High School in Stamford and Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, have hosted their own on-track celebrations throughout the school year. This event at M.H.S. represented a new approach, involving students’ families and producing a true end-of-year event to mark the milestone of 9th grade completion and promotion to 10th grade.
The initial concept for the event was generated during a brainstorming session with Manchester’s Principal, Katelyn Miner; Assistant Principal, Roy Roberts; and RISE Network Freshman Success Coach, Kaitlyn Kennedy. The goal was to recognize 9th grade students as they completed their first year of high school, awarding not only academic accomplishments but other forms of excellence – such as leadership and improvement – as well. Emphasis was placed on involving multiple champions within the school community, as well as holding the event after school hours so that students’ families could attend and cheer them on.
“The transition from 8th to 9th grade is hard, and the purpose of this event was to acknowledge that these students had made it,” said Ms. Kennedy. “The fact that many stakeholders were involved in the process reinforced that we all play a role in championing grade 9 on-track culture,” she continued.
The Grade 9 Awards Night was bursting with joy and enthusiasm. Over 30 11th grade “LINK Leaders” cheerfully welcomed students and their families and helped direct the events of the evening. A DJ played festive tunes, while attendees enjoyed a family-style meal meant to reinforce the concept of community. This was especially important, as this was the first time since the start of the pandemic that students, educators, and families had the opportunity to come together in person in such a significant way.
Taylor McGloin, Freshman Seminar teacher at M.H.S. and one of the event leads, said that the planning team “wanted to engage families and provide positive reinforcement for students, motivating and inspiring them to finish the year strong.”
The students – who were nominated by their 9th grade teachers – received awards in categories such as classroom excellence, performing arts, improvement, self-discipline, leadership, and core values. Of the 135 students nominated, 30 had participated in RISE Network programs to support them in their transition to 9th grade and staying on-track to promote to 10th grade.
M.H.S. On-Track Coach Justin Pearson, another event lead, said that some of the students may not have been excelling academically in certain classes, but displayed other important characteristics like integrity and honesty. He noted that “it takes a community to raise a child, and it is important for us to get together outside of school and show that we care and want to see our students be successful.”
The fantastic turnout, smiling faces, and overall feeling of pride encouraged event and school leaders, who plan to make the Grade 9 Awards Night at M.H.S. an annual one. For other schools that may be interested in implementing an event like this, Mr. McGloin’s advice is to create an open and welcoming atmosphere, where all students and families are included. “Every student has something that deserves an award or acknowledgment,” said Mr. McGloin, “so our approach was to spread out our funding so that we could touch as many lives as possible.”
Learn more about the RISE’s Network’s Student Supports and how you can get involved with RISE.